By Jeremy Cato
The made-in-Oshawa, Ontario Chevrolet Impala arrived as an all-new model for 2002. And while it lacked the tail fins and abundant chrome of the first Impalas in the late 1950s, this family sedan has been successful with many buyers anyway. True, this Impala has nothing in common with the astonishingly successful Impalas of the 1960s, aside from a name. Those Impalas were typical of sedans of that time: big, rear-wheel drive, powered by V8 engines and dripping in chrome.
The most recent Impala is an essentially chrome-free front-driver that’s been sold with a choice of two V6 engines. This car has been popular enough for General Motors Corp. to boost annual production. So it may not be a sexy sedan, yet it’s a successful one from GM’s point of view.
Why? It’s affordable (the used buyer should be able to find a 2000 version in the $17,000-$18,000 range, or so), relatively big and has always come with a fair amount of standard features – not to mention a five-star crash test rating, anti-lock braking and even an available side air bag for the driver.
Quality has been about average if not a bit better. The manufacturer’s own technical service bulletins (see Buyer’s Alerts) point to relatively minor issues for the most part and there certainly doesn’t seem to be a pattern of problems. So as basic family and fleet transportation (I’ve ridden in many Impala taxis) the Impala has found its place in the market.
This car is built on the underpinnings of GM’s mid-size platform, sharing its basic mechanical architecture with the Oldsmobile Intrigue, the Pontiac Grand Prix, the Buick Regal and Century, and the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. So it has a good, solid foundation.
Engine choices include a base 180-horsepower 3.4-litre V6, while the up-level LS has the 3.8-litre V6 (200 hp). Both are older pushrod engines in GM’s lineup, but they do the job. The engine of choice for the smoothest driveability is the 3.8-litre. The ride and handling suspension that comes with the larger engine also makes for better road manners.
Now you shouldn’t mistake this Impala for a sports car, but the brakes are solid and the ride comfortable enough. The steering, however, is a bit heavy for parking manoeuvres. Wind noise at highway speeds is not an issue, but tire roar can be heard on harsh pavement.
The Impala will seat up to six people with the standard front bench seat, although the LS with its front buckets is more comfortable. The cabin is roomy and while instruments aren’t flashy, they work well and all the knobs and controls make sense, too. The back seat, though, is not a very comfortable place thanks to a very low seating position and limited thigh support. A big trunk at back will hold lots of luggage. On the other hand, the glove box is puny.
On the outside the Impala’s only real eye-grabbing feature is the round tail light assembly. It’s there in homage to the 1965 Impala. What I don’t remember from the 1965 car is the chrome Impala logo which Chevy designers dropped back there on the 2000 model.
Feature-for-feature the Impala is a less expensive alternative to import family sedans such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. It’s also beats the Ford Taurus in engine response, although the Taurus has an edge in safety features and back seat comfort.
In short, the used car buyer should test drive all four before making a final decision.